How to Make a DIY Budget Spreadsheet

pencil on a spreadsheet with columns of numbers
  • 1-30 hours
  • Beginner
  • 500-150,000

Budget is a crucial component in the planning of any DIY project. Whether your budget is $500 or $50,000, success hinges on precision when calculating material and labor costs.

A budget spreadsheet is an easy way to stay organized when planning out your project and it also allows for nearly instant updates as things change.

Step 1 - Pick Your Software

If you have Excel, you can start there. Google Sheets will also do the job. You can also find other spreadsheet options online. Use a format you’re familiar with. If you’ve never used spreadsheet software, enlist the help of a friend or family member or head over to watch a few YouTube videos to understand the basics.

Step 2 - Create Your Budget

You’ve probably bounced ideas around in your head or looked at the savings account and come up with an amount you’re comfortable spending. Decide if that number is flexible or firm. Also consider whether it’s realistic. Put this number front and center on your budget spreadsheet.

Step 3 - Create Your Columns

The organization of your spreadsheet starts with creating categories. Across the top of your spreadsheet create titles that include Room, Material, Quantity, Low Price, High Price, Labor Costs, Where to Purchase, and Total Cost.

spreadsheet with numbers in columns

Step 4 - Add Formulas

One primary benefit of a budget spreadsheet is it does the math for you once it’s properly formatted. Say you have a 2x4 lumber cost of $2 on the low end and $8 on the high end.

You will use the information in each column to auto-calculate totals. So, say Column B is your listed material (2x4), Column C is your quantity (i.e. 20), Column D is your low price ($2), Column E is your high price($8), Column H is your total low cost, and Column I is your total high cost.

Obviously, the low price is $2x20 or $40 and the high estimate is $8x20, or $160. To direct your spreadsheet to make these calculations for you, you’ll use formulas.

To do this, find the columns with the corresponding numbers. In our example, the formula in Column H (Total Low Cost) would be =PRODUCT(C1,D1) for your low price and in column I the formula would be =PRODUCT(C1,E1) for your high price.

The nice thing about using the formulas is that every time you change a number, the total updates automatically. So if there is a project delay and your minimum price for a 2x4 goes up to $4, your total will auto-update from $40 to $80.

Step 5 - Create Line Items

It doesn’t matter if your budget ranges from $10k-$100k, you’ll need to itemize the entire project. Start in one room or area and list every material you may need including lumber, wiring, plumbing materials, paint, sheetrock, flooring, lighting, switch covers, faucets, fixtures, appliances, etc.

Be as thorough as you can and research every item. Always estimate high as to the price and the amount of materials you’ll need. Home improvement projects notoriously take twice as long and cost twice as much as one plans for.

Following the material lists, include any labor costs you may have to hire out. This encompasses everything from subcontractors to a neighborhood kid you hire to carry bags of cement.

Also remember to include an area on your spreadsheet for permits, inspections, and professional architectural or engineering plans if required by the city planning department.

Step 6 - Sum Your Columns

spreadsheet menu with calculations

Drumroll please. Once you’ve scrutinized every number, individual material, current market price, labor cost, and additional contingencies, total your costs at the bottom.

You can use a formula, but since it’s a column, the easiest way to total it is to highlight all cells within the column and then simply choose the ‘Sum’ formula. You’ll see the formula appear in the cell. Hit enter and it will calculate a total.

Step 7 - Make Adjustments

Once you get your heart back into rhythm, the fun part begins. Well, you might not think it’s fun, but it’s reality. You can make a copy of the entire spreadsheet so you don’t affect the original numbers.

On your copy, name it something different so you always know which spreadsheet you’re looking at. Evaluate each line, considering what you can trim or substitute. Then tweak the numbers as much as you need to in order to create a budget you can live with.